Undergraduate summer research assistant Lindsay McConkey collecting invertebrates (left) and processing grape berry samples (right) for the lab’s Organic Cluster III project. (Photo credit: Diana Tosato)
Submitted by Lindsay McConkey and the OSCIII team
I do not think I ever pictured myself as an ecology research assistant when I first began at Brock. I entered my third year of the Biological Sciences program this fall and was required to take an ecology course (BIOL 2Q04). Following completion of the course, I was lucky enough to be offered the chance to apply to the Match of Minds program this past spring, proving that hard work and developing good relationships with your TAs does make a difference! The program granted me a summer research assistant position in Dr. Liette Vasseur’s lab, which was a truly amazing experience.
My biggest goal as an undergraduate student was to get involved in a biology lab to get real applicable experience and decide if research was something I wanted to do in my future. I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to be involved in the lab this summer. I have learned more than I could have imagined about ecosystems, vineyards and grape management, data collection and entry, insect identification and general research methods (e.g., snowballing research journal references). Now, whenever I walk anywhere outside and see weeds growing, I automatically try to see if I can identify the plant. Do I recognize it from our field or lab work? I even found myself doing the same with some insects that I come across, by identifying the invertebrate order that they belong to.
Working with Liette’s team has broadened my knowledge about research, both in the field and lab, as well as the behind the scenes that you do not learn about in a classroom setting. Taking ecology online during the pandemic did not allow me to have the same experience that would normally be offered. With this position, I was able to get experience in the field that I missed out on, as well as extra experience that is not typically offered in class. I had never had the chance to work with graduate students in biology before, so it has been beneficial to hear about their experiences. I would like to do my Masters after finishing my Undergrad, so understanding how research projects really work and how much goes into them has been interesting to see and be a part of. I have learned a ton about myself as a learner, which has allowed me to become a better researcher and student.
This position really pushed me out of my comfort zone to improve and learn about parts of research that I would not have otherwise experienced until later in my career. I am used to doing work that only myself and the marker sees, but a lot of what I have been working on is being used in the Organic Cluster project and shared with other researchers. Instead of my work only impacting my progress and grades in class, what I do or do not do in the lab impacts everyone else’s work, which is why it is so different, but also applicable to real life.
I believe that I am very lucky to have been approached for this position. I am thankful that Brock is a smaller university as I may have not had this opportunity at another school, where it is harder to be noticed and make connections with your professors and TAs in larger settings.
I would like to explore other areas of biology, explore my options, and figure out exactly which direction I would like to go in my studies and future career. Although ecology was not necessarily the direction I planned to go with my education at first, this position was a phenomenal start to my experience in a lab for which I could not be more thankful. I have a particular interest in cell biology; however, I think it’s valuable to be able to experience a variety of fields in biology.
I’ve made great connections with the people that I have worked with and am thankful for everything that they have done for me and taught me. I am especially thankful for my research manager Heather, who has worked with me through many challenges this summer given I had never worked in a lab and had limited knowledge in ecology and field work. She personally pushed me out of my comfort zone and was always encouraging. Working on the Organic Cluster project was another truly rewarding experience.
I would encourage others to try something new because you never know where it might lead!
This blog section will be ongoing throughout the duration of the project with bi-weekly updates provided by Liette Vasseur, Heather VanVolkenburg, Diana Tosato, Kasia Zgurzynski, and Alysha Gullion (see research team). We will be providing research activity updates as well as informative pieces that delve into agricultural concepts and important global issues as they relate to agricultural sustainability and climate change. Stay tuned for regular updates!